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French customs accused of stealing wine

French customs is being accused of helping itself to more than 200,000 bottles of wine seized during a fraud investigation.

Customs officials confiscated ‘a large amount’ of wine from the cellars of Bordeaux cru bourgeois Château Tour Seran in 1999 as part of an inquiry into fraud, mis-labelling and embezzlement.

But when documents concerning the confiscated wine were presented to the local court recently, lawyers for the defendant – the château’s previous owner – found a discrepancy. The equivalent of 215,237 bottles, worth around €800,000 (£548,417), was missing.

‘I don’t know of any precedent in such a case,’ one of the lawyers, Jean-Michel Cazenave, told French newspaper Le Monde. ‘An error of €10,000 can happen, for example, in filling out the documents, but €800,000 – that’s no longer a mistake.’

Now, the lawyers for the accused believe customs ‘helped themselves’ to the wine or sold it on. They are demanding the authorities return the missing wine or pay the €800,000.

The lawyers have lodged an independent action for damages with the Bordeaux authorities.

Customs say that the wine has been returned. The château’s former owners were fined €2.5m (£1.7m) in the original court action.

Château Tour Seran has been under new management since 2000. Its current owner, Jean Guyon, also runs Château Rollan de By – also a cru bourgeois.

Written by Oliver Styles

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